Or: "MT or Bust, and other myths."
I originally posted this on the Maintankadin forums.
I see a lot of posts on these boards to the effect of "How can I get my guild to let me tank?" and "I'm backup tank #700, what should I do?" The responses given almost universally favor the "MT or bust" mentality that pervades a lot of Tankadin thinking, and very rarely seems to take in mind a few key tenets of raiding that I think are very important to the success of a raiding Tankadin. Being both a Paladin tank and my guild's tanking officer, as well as raid leader, I thought I'd give my input on the subject from a "both sides of the coin" approach. So, here's my quick (or probably not) guide to scoring a steady, enjoyable raid spot in a serious 25-man raiding guild.
Joining a New Guild
Whether you're just starting out or moving on from an old guild, the most important thing is to research the guilds you're applying to. If you're looking to join a guild on your server you may know most of the important information already, but there is nearly always more that can be learned. Look up kill shots for the guild if available, see who they had present, and then look them up on the armory. Guilds that allow offspec/hybrid classes such as Enhancement Shaman, Feral Druids, Fury Warriors, and Shadow Priests likely to be a lot more receptive to the idea of a Paladin tank than the typical min/maxing "primary raid role" guilds. Likewise, finding names from kill shots will let you be sure these hybrids are being brought for new content and not just dragged through farmed content as backups.
The recruitment forums can be a good source of potential guilds, but be wary of recruitment posts looking for "Paladins", as more often than not what they really mean is "Paladin Healers." Ideally you'll want to look at postings for "Tanks," although occasionally "Warrior" listings can be worthwhile with a little talking, which brings me to another point: Talk to potential guild masters/raid leaders/tanking officers/whoever else is doing the recruitment ahead of time. Speak directly to the person who will be inviting you if possible. Make it very clear from the start that you want to be invited as a tank, and with the intention of using you as such, and not just as a poorly specced healer picking up what the Warriors leave behind. Being upfront and honest with your new guild will remove a lot of the potential for drama and confusion down the line.
Do NOT join a guild as a healer with the hopes of eventually being allowed to respec prot, unless you are fully willing to remain a healer for the remainder of your raiding career should the opportunity to raid as Prot never arise. Raiding guilds recruit people to fill a role, generally because they have a need for someone in that role. There's nothing more annoying than recruiting a Holy Priest only to have them immediately start begging to respec Shadow, or recruiting a new Prot Warrior who only wants to raid on his Warlock alt. If you're recruited as a healer, you should expect to heal, and although making your desire to respec prot known isn't necessarily a bad thing, bringing it up too often just annoys people.
Make sure to do the research on your tanking role as well. Guild masters/raid leaders are GOING to ask you questions to the point of "What benefit would recruiting you bring to the raid?" and you should be able to respond quite solidly what you're able to do, in what encounters, on what trash, in what instances. These forums are a goldmine of information of that sort. In addition, when they say things like "No endgame guilds use Paladin tanks," you should be able to point out the successes of people like PsiVen, Jensaarai, Mortehl, and the many other Tankadins who peruse these forums. At the same time, however, it would be a horrible mistake to expect the phrase "Paladin tank" to earn you a raid spot - make them know that you're going to be a good raider, even aside from your class choice.
What if I like the guild I'm in?
Starting from scratch in a new guild isn't always the only option, or even the best, especially if you happen to like the people in the guild you're in. If you're already in a raiding guild, perhaps as a Holy spec, there's many things you can do to try and convince your raid leaders to allow you to start raiding as Prot instead.
First off, be good at what you're doing already. This may seem counterproductive ("Why should I let you respec prot, you're the best healer we have"), but you'll find raid leaders a lot more receptive to your desires if you've proven you're capable of playing well. Make a real effort to performing well in your existing role. Even if you're Ret DPS currently, know how Ret DPS works and do the best Ret DPS you can. Be able to carry on conversations about not only tanking, but every aspect of your class.
Second, talk things out with your raid leaders/role officers/whatever else. Don't come with an attitude of "If I can't tank, I'm not raiding anymore." Just ask politely if such an opportunity is available. Your reputation as a raider comes into play heavily here, you're going to have to be a very solid player to convince the higher-ups to let you switch roles.
If you're already in a tanking role, and get delegated to nothing but a backup position, ask your raid leader why this is. Quite often, frustratingly so, tanks that I have in backup positions think that the other tanks get invited first because I think they're bad tanks. That hasn't been the case - if I think you're a bad tank, I'm not even going to give you a backup position, and the same goes for most raid leaders. More often I just have more tanks than I have raid spots for, which means the people who were there before and/or are more consistent get the spots first. Don't let that get you down though, spots have a way of opening up even when no one thinks there's any chance of it happening. Talk to the other tanks and whoever does invites for the tanks, see about coming in for farmed content that the other tanks don't need, give them a bit of a break.
Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot
I've heard too many stories of happy Tankadins, giddy with glee at their first chance at endgame tanking, only to get absolutely destroyed by whatever mob they happen to be after. It doesn't matter how prepared you are, it doesn't matter how much you know about the class: If you don't have the gear, you can't tank, plain and simple. Tanking is absolutely the most gear-dependent role in the game, and going up against Lady Vashj in your 5-piece Righteous Armor with questing blues and greens isn't going to do anyone any good. Fortunately, one of our class's greatest weaknesses can play to your benefit here: there really isn't much itemization available to us in SSC and TK, so Karazhan gear is about as good as it gets - as well as being a lot more accessible. If your guild doesn't run Karazhan regularly, see about getting some people together on off times to run it, or hook up with another group that runs Karazhan exclusively. So long as they'll let you loot tanking gear, you'll be able to get your gear up to where it needs to be. If your guild is already in BT and Hyjal, there's lots of Paladin-specific tanking gear available, talk to your guild leaders about letting you loot it at no or discounted DKP prices, perhaps by compensating the guild bank in some way for the loss of a void crystal.
DON'T just loot T4/5/6 pieces and go "Whoops, I got the tanking piece instead!" The people in charge tend to frown on that, and the last thing you need is another reason for them to say no. If you want to pick up tanking gear from those sets, talk it out with your raid leaders. We share T4 and T5 sets with Shaman and Rogues, so there's a fair chance that at some point everyone will have their primary piece of a particular drop. Talk to your raid leaders about picking up a second.
Secure Your Position
Once you've demonstrated that you're capable of tanking, you need to demonstrate that you can do so reliably. You should always come fully prepared to every raid. Have weapon buffs, food buffs, flasks, everything you need to last the entire night and then some. Know the encounters, know your role in the encounters, and all in all just be a good raider. I've said many times to the other officers in Months Behind, raiding is 50% playing your class and 50% preparing for and executing the encounter. It doesn't matter how well you perform one half if your performance in the other half is lacking, and I don't care how good you are at standing still and pressing buttons in the right order if you can't kite Thaladred, or can't pass a Tainted Core, or don't spread out properly for Shatters. Each and every encounter is played differently, knowing and understanding that -- and adapting appropriately -- is going to go a long way.
Strap On the Healing Gear
"Wtf?" I hear you say. "I just did all this work to become a tank, and now you want me to stand back and heal?" Put bluntly, yes. You're a hybrid. Not every encounter calls for multiple tanks, and a lot of the time your crappy healing as prot spec is going to do a lot more good than the Warriors' crappy DPS as prot spec. At the very least, try to get ahold of a decent healing weapon, shield, and libram, and swap between those and your tanking weapon, shield, and libram when necessary in combat. A good player pushes his class to its full extent, not just to the extent they most enjoy. You'll find yourself a lot more raid worthy if you're willing to step back and toss some heals out when another tank is dying instead of whacking away at something's ankles doing "sick" Prot DPS.
Ultimately, being a good raider is every bit as important as being a good Tankadin when it comes to holding a secure position in an endgame raiding guild. In addition, talking things out with people before making rash decisions is always the best option. "Find a new guild" is not only a poor answer to "They won't let me tank," it's also very rarely the only one. Holding a position as an endgame Tankadin is just as much in your hands as it is in your guild's, make the most of every opportunity you can and you'll find it easier to achieve than you may have thought =)